Malachi Barrett and Lauren Gibbons
An edited clip of state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson, D- Detroit, issuing a warning to “Trumpers” after she faced violent and racist threats sparked outrage among supporters of President Donald Trump online, culminating in Johnson being stripped of her House committee assignments.
Johnson became instantly notorious among Trump supporters and conservative media who denounced her “aggressive” questioning of witnesses called by the president’s attorne,y Rudy Giuliani, during a House Oversight Committee hearing last week. The Detroit lawmaker received death threats after participating in the hearing, which largely focused on unproven claims of election fraud during vote counting at the TCF Center in Detroit.
Related: In unusual hearing, Rudy Giuliani asks Michigan lawmakers to ‘take back your power’
Johnson published a number of the threats to her personal Facebook page, including voicemails from people who called her the N-word, suggested she should be lynched and threatened to burn crosses in her front yard. In a three-minute video posted to her page Tuesday night, Johnson said an Illinois woman who threatened her had been identified by law enforcement.
Johnson thanked constituents for supporting her and said they shouldn’t resort to yelling or cursing at people they disagree with. Johnson called on supporters to “hit them in the pocketbook,” instead.
However, Johnson’s final remarks in the video attracted more controversy.
“So this is just a warning to you Trumpers,” Johnson said. “Be careful. Walk lightly. We ain’t playing with you. Enough of the shenanigans. Enough is enough. And for those of you who are soldiers, you know how to do it. Do it right. Be in order. Make them pay.”
Edited clips of Johnson’s video quickly spread on social media, shared by conservative media outlets and the president’s campaign press communications director. Many conservatives interpreted Johnson’s comments as a call to murder Trump supporters.
“This is disgraceful,” read one post from the Trump campaign’s official Twitter account. “Imagine the outrage if a Republican did something even remotely close to this?”
Some users called for Johnson to resign or face criminal charges. One video was viewed nearly 1 million times by Wednesday afternoon.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Laura Cox accused Johnson of inciting violence. Cox said it was “distressing” to hear of threats against Johnson but said the lawmaker “sunk to the same level as the unhinged individuals who threatened her.”
“I am incredibly disturbed by Representative Cynthia Johnson’s deranged Facebook rant,” Cox said in a statement. “It is reprehensible that an elected official would call on her ‘soldiers’ to make the supporters of an opposing party ‘pay’, and clearly such a statement could incite people to violence.”
Less than two hours later, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R- Levering, announced that Johnson has been removed from her committee assignments due to her comments. Chatfield said Johnson could face “further disciplinary action as the proper authorities conduct their own investigations.”
“Threats to either Democrats or Republicans are unacceptable and un-American,’ Chatfield said. “They’re even more unbecoming of an elected official. Rep. Johnson has been removed from her committee assignments, and we are looking into further disciplinary action as the proper authorities conduct their own investigations.”
A spokesperson for Chatfield said the video was turned over to law enforcement, but did not specify which agency.
The House Speaker has discretion over who serves on the House’s legislative committees, although removing a lawmaker from all of their committees is an infrequent occurrence.
In the case of Rep. Larry Inman, who faced federal charges of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe in 2019, Chatfield called on him to resign and removed him from his committees. Chatfield also put the House Business Office in control of Inman’s office and staff.
Removing Johnson’s committee assignments does not impact her ability to vote on the House floor.
Michigan Rep. Cynthia Johnson Removed from Committee, Punished by House Leaders After Issuing Threats Against “Trumpers” on Social Media https://t.co/bI64IG900Q @Rep_CAJohnson @Rich_Kruse @sammy_underwood @RickyBobby_USA @brenny_ @TK1841— John Colascione 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸👍👍👍 (@John_Colascione) December 10, 2020
Johnson could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but posted another video to her Facebook page calling on “soldiers for Christ” to rise up against racism, misogyny and domestic terrorism.
“Soldiers for Black and Brown people who are being mistreated, rise,” Johnson said.
In an interview with MLive last week, Johnson said she’s received “so many calls and emails and texts and just nasty messages” — many of them racist and threatening — since the House Oversight hearing with Giuliani.
“I’ve been called a (N-word), I’ve been called a monkey, anything you can think of, that was my experience,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life.”
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